Advent: Acts of Kindness

Like many children up and down the country, my kids look forward to advent as the twenty four days of the year when they’re allowed to have chocolate before breakfast! We’ve hung our calendars and they are getting out of bed that little bit more willingly than usual, tempted by the lure of an edible treat.

It’s true that the consumption of daily confectionery is somewhat removed from the Christian meaning of advent. In the Christian faith, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and advent is a reminder to prepare for this important religious festival.

This year, like last year, Mr Gale in the Maths Faculty has shared his “Kindness Calendar” with the school. The Kindness Calendar is a great way to mark advent by giving, rather than receiving, tied into one of the Academy’s core values. Each school day of the advent period, there’s a kindness task for students and staff to carry out. There are bonus tasks to extend it into the weekend too!

kindnesscalendar

Our Kindness Calendar

Why not try each of the daily acts of kindness on the days running up to Christmas? After you’ve had your chocolate, of course…

Mistakes

Your-Best-Teacher-Is-Your-Last-Mistake

Your best teacher is your last mistake (Ralph Nader)

It’s horrible when we get something wrong. Nobody likes it! It can be horribly exposing, and it’s perfectly natural to feel upset, or embarrassed, or even ashamed. But, of course, we make mistakes all the time. They are a natural part of the learning process. So how can best use our mistakes to make progress?

FAIL-300x266

FAIL: first attempt in learning

The first thing is to accept that mistakes are inevitable. They will always happen. Nobody is perfect. Secondly, if you are doing something difficult – which, in school, we expect our students to do – the likelihood of getting it wrong is much higher. So the most important thing is not getting it right first time, but getting it right in the end.

This video from the Khan Academy shows how, as young children, we aren’t afraid to fall down, fail and try again – for example when learning to walk or ride a bike. But, as we grow, we become increasingly self-conscious and easily embarrassed. This shift can actually get in the way of our learning as we are less willing to take risks and try something new, worried that we might get it wrong, and forgetting that mistakes are a natural part of learning.

marshallautograph

Minnesota Vikings defender Jim Marshall in 1970

We can rest easy that none of us will ever make so drastic a mistake as Jim Marshall. In 1964, Marshall played American Football for the Minnesota Vikings against the San Fransisco 49ers. When one of the 49ers players fumbled the ball, it came loose, and Marshall was able to scoop it into his hands. He looked up, saw the goalposts ahead of him, and ran as fast as he could to the end zone to score what he thought was a touchdown. It was when the 49ers players started congratulating him that he realised he had run the wrong way down the pitch into his own end zone, scoring a safety and conceding two points to the opposition.

How do you recover from a mistake as catastrophic and public as that? Marshall did his best to forget about it, and crucially to learn from it. He went on to recover a total of 30 fumbles for the Vikings in his career, still an NFL record for the most recovered by any single player – and he never again ran the wrong way down the pitch. You can watch a video about Marshall’s experience here.

failure bruise

At Churchill, to learn effectively, we believe in the value of:

  • Determined and consistent effort
  • A hunger to learn new things
  • Challenging ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable
  • Viewing setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow
  • Seeking and responding to feedback
  • Encouraging others to succeed

Having a healthy attitude to mistakes, and having the confidence and determination to take risks in our learning and try new things, are all central to our success in learning. So long as we make sure we’re facing the right way before we set off.

 

Christmas Concerts 2018

I love the Christmas Concert! I remember seeing my first one in December 2015, just before I started as Headteacher in January. I was blown away then, and if anything the standard just keeps on going up!

This year’s event was no exception. There were over 400 students involved over the two nights, with such an array of music on show – musical theatre, pop, folk, jazz and classical, and even a moment of metal from Churchill’s Young Musician of the Year, Kimi Powell on drums! Young Musician runner-up Bronwen Deane had the audience in the palm of her hand with a performance of her own song, “That’s what they all say” – she has a bright future ahead of her. Last year’s competition winner, Maddie Pole, is now in the final of the Fame by Fearless talent competition – you can vote for her to win here until midnight on Sunday 25th November 2018.

Gospel Choir introduced some fantastic soloists to the Playhouse this year: Ruby Polli, Cara Crozier-Cole, Benedict Pearce, Livvy Green, Olive Barnett and Freya Hinnigan-Chambers sang their hearts out, backed as ever by an incredible sound from the enthusiastic chorus. Many of the same students also sang in Chamber Choir, whilst a beautiful acapella rendition of White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes showed you didn’t need instruments to make a wonderful sound.

Instrumentalists, however, were in plentiful supply! Big Orchestra and Concert Band both gave excellent performances, including a suite from “Enter the Dragon” arranged by our very own Mr Spencer, and a spirited performance by the Jazz Band fronted enthusiastically by Sol Walker-Mckee and Arthur Burston.

The highlight of the show for many was the Junior Choir, as the massed ranks of Year 7 and 8 singers kicked off the festive period with a re-telling of the Christmas story through songs written by students. The soloists this year were fantastic, and the actions and performance level from the choir were brilliant – how they managed to muster the energy after a disco is beyond me!

The Christmas Concert is a real team effort. Weston Playhouse work with us every year, and over thirty Academy staff were involved behind the scenes and front of house. But what impressed me most – as always – was the leadership of our students. Students compered the show, conducted orchestras, led vocal groups, ran the stage management, arranged musical items, and sold programmes. Seeing the potential and promise of these great young people, and their joy in music making, is what makes all the effort and organisation worthwhile.

I’m calling it: Christmas starts here!

The black dot in the white square

When I was training to teach, one of the techniques I was taught was to remember the black dot in the white square. In teacher training terms, the black dot represented the disruptive, naughty or badly behaved student in the class. When you look at the class, the temptation for the teacher is to focus on that badly behaved student, and not spend enough time and attention on the white square, which represents all the other well-behaved, hard-working, positive students in the room. Of course, poor behaviour needs to be dealt with, but it’s far better to reinforce and celebrate the vast majority of students who are doing exactly what they should. Far better to be emphasising the positives by saying “thank you for listening, well done for being ready to learn, thank you for putting your hand up and waiting,” than to be constantly nagging at the negatives.

screen-shot-2013-01-06-at-02-18-57

The black dot in the white square: our attention is drawn to the negative (the black dot) at the expense of recognising the positive (the white square). Image via TeacherHead

I have used this technique throughout my teaching, always seeking to accentuate the positive and ensure that those who are doing the right thing get more attention and time than those who are doing the wrong thing. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

More recently, I have been thinking about the tendency to focus on the black dot and forget the white square beyond teaching. When something goes wrong, it’s easy and tempting to fixate on that blemish or blot and see it as the whole story, to feel that everything is bad just because of that one thing that hasn’t gone to plan. At times like these, I remember that was seems like a catastrophe is just a black dot in the white square, and take a step back. I look around at all the many, many things that are going right; the positives, the successes and the promise.

Although that black dot is still there, still frustrating, still upsetting, it is in perspective – it isn’t the whole story. One problem, or even a series of them, doesn’t define the whole; there is always something to celebrate.

Remembrance 2018: #ThankYou100

Remembrance-100-Logo-Medium

Remembrance Day is always special, but this year’s is unusually significant in that it marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. The two minutes’ silence is always a profoundly moving experience, in which we reflect on our connections to those who made sacrifices so that we could live in freedom today.

Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

On November 11th, I always think about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, who served in the Arctic convoys and captained a minesweeper, before working on the Pluto programme to supply fuel to the beaches on D Day. After the war he returned to teaching as Headmaster of Grasmere school, where he worked until retirement. Sacrifice is not always about death. We remember the fallen but also those who were – and still are – prepared to risk their lives to defend our society. We can learn a lot from their individual sacrifice for the collective good.

For this year’s #100years remembrance, I was impressed by this tribute from England’s men’s and women’s football teams to the sacrifices made by footballers during and after the First World War:

Just as we honour those who gave their lives, the sacrifices made by others in other ways are also significant, and just as worthy of remembrance.

Finally, each Remembrance Day, I reach for poetry. There are great works by Sassoon, Owen, McCrae, and countless other war poets, but in recent years I have always come back to Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers. This poem is so resonant and powerful in its description of the uncovering of the remnants of the battle of the Somme in peacetime as farmers plough. Sheers has spoken eloquently of the inspiration for the poem as he visited the site:

Walking over that same ground, now a ploughed field, 85 years later I was struck by how remnants of the battle – strips of barbed wire, shells, fragments of bone, were still rising to the surface. It was as if the earth under my feet that was now being peacefully tilled for food could not help but remember its violent past and the lives that had sunk away into it. Entering the wood, a ‘memory’ of the battle was still evident there too. Although there was a thick undergrowth of trailing ivy and brambles, it undulated through deep shell holes. My knowledge of what had caused those holes in the ground and of what had happened among those trees stood in strange juxtaposition to the summer calmness of the wood itself; the dappled sunlight, the scent of wild garlic, the birdsong filtering down from the higher branches.

royal_irish_rifles_ration_party_somme_july_1916

As we remember the Great War it is our duty to reach back into the collective memory of our violent past, to thank those who came before us for their sacrifice, and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future.

Mametz Wood
by Owen Sheers

For years afterwards the farmers found them –
the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades
as they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,
the relic of a finger, the blown
and broken bird’s egg of a skull,

all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white
across this field where they were told to walk, not run,
towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,
reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened
like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,
a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,
their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

in boots that outlasted them,
their socketed heads tilted back at an angle
and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.

(Source)

You’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do

This week I watched the joyous production of Bugsy Malone put on by our Year 7 and 8 students.

IMG_3632

It was a terrific show – over seventy of our students were involved on stage across two casts. What was more remarkable is that the show only started rehearsing on 17th September, with the first performance on 23rd October! To put on such a professional performance in such a short space of time, whilst also keeping up with school work and all of the learning in lessons, is a truly staggering achievement.

IMG_3707

Tallulah and her dancers

It was a great team effort – the students worked with and for one another, playing the comic scenes brilliantly but also, in the case of Maria Amaral as Fizzy and Gemma Partridge as Blousey Brown, bringing some touching poignancy to the more emotional moments.

IMG_3761

The big “splurge”

Behind the scenes, our Sixth Formers and some older students from the main school made the show look and sound amazing. The set was designed, built, painted and decorated entirely by students from the Sixth Form’s specialist tutor programme – and it was spectacular. The band sounded great, and the technical crew on sound, lighting and stage management were excellent. The way that our older students supported the younger performers is typical of Churchill’s vertical system and our value of kindness.

Last week I wrote about the vital role of the arts at Churchill. I was left thinking that there couldn’t be a better introduction to that spirit than a show like this! Audiences were also treated to a gallery of A-level Art, Photography and Design work in the foyer, whilst refreshments were provided in aid of the Mend the Gap team’s Kenya expedition.

The final song of the show – “You Give a Little Love” – sums up the spirit of the show:

We could have been anything that we wanted to be

Yes that decision was ours

It’s been decided, we’re weaker divided

Let friendship double up our powers

The final chorus echoed out: “you give a little love and it all comes back to you; you know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.” These students have already made such a positive difference at Churchill, and I know they will remember the experience for years to come.

IMG_3785

The cast from night two

Congratulations to all the cast and crew, and special thanks to the dedicated team of staff who made it all happen – especially director and mastermind Miss Bones.

 

 

The importance of creativity

On Wednesday, I was out of school at a conference for school leaders in Taunton. The conference was packed full of information I needed to know: the latest updates on school funding, on exam results, on Ofsted, on Department for Education policy, on teacher recruitment and retention….a lot of information! But, in the middle of the session on exam results, we were shown a chart from a BBC survey on examination entries in 2018. The chart showed the decline in exam entries across the country for arts subjects.

reflection 1

Photography taken by Year 13 during the 2018 snow

The presenters at the conference told us that exam entries for the Performing Arts fell by 44% in 2018. This is on top of falling numbers historically: in 2015, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values, found that between 2003 and 2013 there was a 23% drop in GCSE entries for drama. Research carried out by Sussex University in 2017 warned that “music could face extinction” in secondary schools.

New website background_1

The cast of Singin’ in the Rain

Of course, it is important for all students to have a secure foundation in academic subjects. Churchill’s core curriculum in our personalised stage (Years 9-11) requires students to take English, Maths, Science, and two more subjects chosen from French, Spanish, History, Geography and Computer Science, because we agree that a core curriculum of academic subjects is the right thing for our students.

But not at the expense of the arts!

IMG_0761

The performers at this week’s Young Musician of the Year competition

The creative arts is one of this country’s most thriving industries. We are world leaders in music, drama, theatre, film, media and art – there are strong, viable careers for our young people in the creative industries. If these subjects aren’t offered, we are closing the door on those futures. Even if you don’t go on to work in the arts, studying a creative subject brings with it much needed confidence, empathy, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and reflection.

IMG_0624

Last year’s Junior Choir in action

What makes me angry is that ensuring all students have a strong academic core curriculum does not mean the arts have to suffer. At Churchill, the arts are thriving. The school is full of music, dance, drama, and art. This year, we have 72 students taking Performing Arts courses in Year 9 – five more than the previous year. We have 41 students taking Music – an increase of more than 30% on two years ago. And as for Art itself, we have 79 students taking Art or Textiles in Year 9 – ten more than the year before. All of those students study core academic subjects too!

It’s such a shame that schools up and down the country are reducing provision in these subjects. As Headteacher of Churchill, I will continue to defend our exceptional arts provision: our children’s creativity depends on it!

Sports Awards 2018

Our annual Sports Award dinner is always a great event, but the 2018 incarnation was, by general agreement, the best yet! 320 students attended the event at Cadbury House Hotel, looking very smart indeed, to be greeted by the Mendip Snowsports Yeti and a host of staff and special guests.

IMG_3616

Guests of honour Tom Stabbins and Pat Lam with Director of PE Mr Hayne

The evening began with a speech from Churchill alumnus Tom Stabbins, who spoke movingly and powerfully about his experiences of school and where that has led him. Following a serious illness diagnosed in Year 8, Tom had part of his leg amputated. He spoke about how sport meant that this change – which could have been disabling – actually enabled him to take on more challenges, including becoming a prominent wheelchair basketball player. Tom is now a keen climber, and is trying out for the GB Paraclimbing squad. You can read more about Tom’s story here. His speech was incredibly inspiring, and many students took the opportunity to talk to him during the rest of the evening about how sport has the power to transform lives.

After a delicious meal, it was the turn of our second special guest, Bristol Bears Head Coach Pat Lam. The former Samoan international spoke about his childhood in New Zealand and the lessons he has learned over a lifetime in rugby – and teaching!

IMG_3535

Pat Lam addressing Sports Awards Evening 2018

Pat’s first lesson was about balance: that keeping school work and extra-curricular activities in balance is vital. Too much on one or the other is harmful. It was reassuring to hear this, as this was exactly the message I gave to Year 11 students and their families at the start of this academic year!

Secondly, Pat shared the four “Ps” that he has used to find success in his personal and professional life:

  • Purpose: having a goal and driving towards that goal is the key to everything else. Don’t let others put you off: if you have a goal, go for it!
  • People: meeting people, working with others, and treating them well is the second key to success. Pat spoke about how each of us has the power – and the responsibility – to intervene when others are not being treated well. His message here really chimed with our value of Kindness. 
  • Perseverance: Pat’s message in the third “P” tied in perfectly with our value of Determination – we all encounter difficulties and barriers, but our response to them is crucial. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and grow – this is a phrase straight out of the Academy’s learning values!
  • Performance: the fourth “P” is the end result – putting in the performance when it matters and doing the very best you can in any given situation.

The rugby star then went on to talk to students about the “Power Train” technique – how your thoughts, words, and actions can either undermine or improve your chances of achieving your dreams. If a team thinks like champions, they will talk like champions, and then they will act like champions – and this gives them a better chance of actually becoming champions. The same is true for every individual.

Pat had the entire room in the palm of his hand, even leading us all in a spontaneous dance routine to finish off!

Our guest of honour then joined me to help Team PE hand out this year’s awards. You can find a full list on the Academy website, but it was a special privilege as ever to hand over the Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year Award. This year’s deserving winners were Katie Mackay and Stan Irving.

IMG_3596

Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year 2018

Above all, though, the depth and breadth of sport and PE at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form was breathtaking. Awards were given for rugby, football, netball, hockey, rounders, cricket, golf, swimming, and athletics, whilst students were inducted into the Hall of Fame for gymnastics, equestrianism, and archery. Team PE also introduced new awards for kindness, curiosity and determination this year.

IMG_3515

Sports Awards 2018

Thanks must go to all the staff who attended and helped, especially Team PE; to our special guests; and above all to the fantastic students who make sport at Churchill such a success. Their participation, effort, and contribution makes it all worthwhile.

Bring on #SAE19!

IMG_3496

FAQ: who was in the Yeti costume?!

 

Teaching: every lesson shapes a life

Every year the Department for Education puts out a video to promote careers in teaching. This year’s is something special: take a couple of minutes to watch it below.

Today, 5th October, is World Teachers’ Day – a day to mark the achievements of the teaching profession and reflect on ways to overcome the challenges the profession faces. I’ve been a teacher for 21 years, and I can honestly say that I love my job. The video captures many of the reasons why.

Teaching is a team sport

The video perfectly captures the fact that so many adults help to shape and guide young people on their journeys, but that they make the choices and decisions for themselves. It shows how the support of a parent at home – proud of the student’s achievements, supportive when things go wrong, and working in partnership with the school – sets the young person on the path to success.

Building the tower of education

The video also shows how education is like a tower of wooden blocks in the game of Jenga. Each layer, each lesson, each year builds on the one before. Some parts of the tower are trickier than others, and when blocks are missing the whole thing can wobble. But with care, patience and a steady hand, the structure can soar to great heights.

The power of belief

When the girl in the video’s confidence is shaken, when things go wrong, it is the adults around her saying and showing that they believe in her that sets her back on track. There is that moment at around 1:05 when she sits down to take an exam, when the teacher’s look says: “You’re on your own now, but I know you can do this.” I have given students that look hundreds – thousands! – of times in my career, when they repay the investment we have made in them through their triumphs and successes, big and small. By believing in them, we can help them to believe in themselves. What a privilege it is to be a teacher.

Thank a teacher

2018-TAT-A6-postcard-final-high-res-1

We have all had teachers who have had an impact and helped to shape our future lives. They may have inspired us; they may have believed in us; they may have been there for us when nobody else was; they may have been the one who never gave up on us. Mine was Mrs Chamberlain, who taught me in primary school, and made me believe that I could learn anything I wanted to. I’ve never looked back! When I qualified as a teacher, I wrote to Mrs Chamberlain to thank her for inspiring me – she had no idea she had made such an impression!

If you’d like to thank a teacher for helping you, you can use the Teaching Awards website to record your thanks. The Teaching Awards will then send that teacher a “Thank You” card on your behalf – completely free of charge.

Get into teaching

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form offers teacher training through University-linked courses and school-centred routes, including Schools Direct. Find out more on the “Train with us” page on the Academy’s website.

If you are interested in a career in teaching, the DfE’s Get Into Teaching site is a good place to start.

Open Evening 2018

I’m really proud of Churchill. Every day I’m happy to go to work, knowing that I’ll be surrounded by such a dedicated and passionate staff team, and our amazing, creative, funny and lovely students. On the days when I’m away from the Academy for meetings, I miss it!

Open Evening is a wonderful opportunity to show other people what I have the privilege of seeing every day. It’s a chance to showcase our wonderful school to children and their families who are interested in coming to Churchill in Year 7. This year, more than ever, there was a real sense of the whole Academy pulling together as one team, students and staff united, so proud of our school.

I was especially proud of Ben and Dulcie who opened the presentation to parents and students, and of Lily, Tiri, David and Mary who finished the presentation off. They spoke confidently and so warmly about their time at Churchill to the packed houses in the Academy Hall. Our student tour guides were also excellent ambassadors for the school, answering questions and making sure that no stone was left unturned. The ever-brilliant Youthful Spirit Gospel Choir gave an uplifting performance too!

Next week we have our Open Mornings when we will showcase the Academy on a normal working day. We can’t wait! All the details are on the Academy website.